NZ travel bubble resumes after COVID scare

Flights between Australia and New Zealand have resumed after nearly a week, following a coronavirus outbreak scare.

The travel bubble between the nations was put on hold when a 56-year-old woman New Zealand woman tested positive for the highly-contagious South African COVID-19 variant after completing 14-days in hotel quarantine in Auckland.

She had tested negative twice while in isolation then travelled to more than 30 venues while carrying the virus.

Quarantine-free travel from New Zealand was suspended for 72 hours from Monday after the case was confirmed, then extended for another 72-hours after a further two cases were detected.

The suspension was lifted at 2pm on Sunday. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Bianca De MarchiSource:News Corp Australia

In recommending flights resume from 2pm on Sunday, acting chief medical officer Michael Kidd noted there had been no further confirmed cases in the New Zealand community since those initial three cases, which all originated from hotel quarantine.

All close contacts of the three cases have returned negative test results and there have been no further cases found to date in the casual contacts, previous residents of the hotel or hotel staff.

But given there is still a small risk of more cases linked to the outbreak being detected, pre and post flight screening will be undertaken for the next 10 days.

The screening will check that travellers have not been identified as close contacts and not visited any of the contact tracing areas of concern.

If they have visited those area, they must have been tested and received negative results.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the screening was “an abundance of caution”.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was disappointed by the suspension. Picture: Hagen Hopkins/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

The strain, which is 50 per cent more transmissible than previous variants, has caused alarm among Australian authorities amid questions over the effectiveness of vaccines against it.

The suspension “disappointed” NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who warned travel bubbles were unviable if they could be abruptly halted.

Australia confirmed its 14h day of no community transmission on Sunday, marking the country’s longest streak without a case since February 16 to 29 last year.

Mr Hunt said the situation in New Zealand was being closely monitored, with Australian authorities receiving daily briefings on the results of the continuing contact tracing related to the outbreak.

Separately, it recently emerged a hotel worker in Auckland was fired after being caught in an “inappropriate encounter” with a woman undergoing hotel quarantine.

Both the worker and guest ultimately tested negative to COVID-19.

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